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Vorblogging - "Mirror Dance"

Well, that was intense.

It's as good as everyone says, although difficult to read in places. I don't know if I could read the torture scenes again, and the attempted rape was also painful to get through. Not painful because it was badly written; the exact opposite, in fact. But there are a lot of brilliant things, here, including the torture and the strategy Mark uses to get through it. I expect the personality splinter to have serious repercussions down the line. Interesting, too, as another example of the ways in which Miles and Mark are like-but-not, in that Miles created the Admiral persona in a very similar fashion, though less consciously.

I enjoyed the writerly tricks Bujold plays with perspective and POV in this book: the way Mark never thinks of himself as having a name until Bel Thorne names him, and the way this is mirrored while Miles has lost his memory, the subtle but telling differences between the voices of Miles and Mark, the way Miles is unmistakably Miles even when he doesn't know himself, the foreshadowing of Miles's fears about losing his mind. I noticed all these things immediately, but I think that only enhanced my enjoyment of them, watching them at work.

But make no mistake: this story is an emotional roller coaster. If I may quote two tweets, sent within moments of one another as I was reading one of the earlier chapters on the train:

"If you and Don Quixote Jr. are done..." I love you, Elli Quinn.

@itsjustira Noooooooo


I don't remember the last time I went that quickly from bouncing with excitement at an action sequence to staring at a book, dumbfounded at a hero's death. I went into shock right along with Mark. Given that, it shouldn't be a surprise that I almost squealed out loud with relief to see Miles revived, precarious as his situation was at the time. I have gotten very attached to these characters: Elli's snarky competence, Elena's strength and the clear influence that Cordelia has played on her as a role model, the genius and foibles of Miles and Mark. The way that Mark grows over the few short months of the story, from resentment of Miles, to fear that he may be forced into the role of Lord Vorkosigan, to the way he comes to embrace a limited form of that role and the people he is starting to accept as his new family. But I like that it isn't easy, or even over by the end of the book; it's a process, and that feels real to me. I loved seeing Gregor come into his own, too, and the scene where Ivan gets drunk at the party and finally allows himself to start grieving for Miles was beautifully done. There's a lot of truth to the connections Bujold draws between people.

There are a few things that nagged at me. Bujold's women characters are great, but they're starting to develop a touch of Heinlein Syndrome: they're strong, and beautiful, and brilliant, and highly competent... and they really want to sleep with the hero. She puts enough twists on the trope (Taura, Thorne, the reluctance of everyone who expresses interest in Miles to become his Countess -- although now that she's almost lost him, I wonder if Quinn will change her tune on that one), so I don't fault her for it too much, but I have my eye on it. Also I really hope rape and torture do not begin to figure prominently in the stories. Torture, especially, is a staple of military SF, so it makes sense that Bujold would touch on it from time to time, but it's not something I prefer to read very often. Good as this story was, I'm not particularly eager to re-read it.

But I am very glad I read it the first time! And looking forward to seeing the repercussions. One thing I have learned about Bujold: she does not shy away from the repercussions. From Bothari's death offering to Kareen's family background to Miles's instinctive hatred of cold and the blowback from the previous missions to Jackson's Whole, it seems that almost no thread is dropped, nothing is placed at random. It's nice to see how tightly all of Bujold's skeins weave together, and I have to wonder if she has a larger endpoint or story arc in mind.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/520709.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

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peachespig
Mar. 17th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
The way that Mark grows over the few short months of the story, from resentment of Miles, to fear that he may be forced into the role of Lord Vorkosigan, to the way he comes to embrace a limited form of that role and the people he is starting to accept as his new family.

Yes, I really, really loved exactly this, and it's one of the reasons I like this book so much (and Mark so much).

Some fans of the books I've spoken with don't like this book as much, and aren't very fond of Mark, and I think it has a lot to do with the torture sequence and the Black Gang and so on. But I really love him for what he lives through, and I always cheer a little when he tells Elena to not dare pity him. He is enormously strong, and kind of remarkably "normal" despite everything he's been through, and despite all the ways he is extraordinary. In a sense with the Black Gang he has taken the parts of himself that have been broken or distorted and separated them, so that the "primary" Mark can be (relatively) untouched.

And I find it very fascinating to feel how Lois has managed to make him and Miles similar and yet different, the nature vs nurture dichotomy made flesh. I love his deadpan snark next to Miles's hyperactivity. Another moment I love is when he is telling Miles he has chosen to stay fat, and he says something along the lines of "Looking like this, not even a one-eyed sniper in the pouring rain at midnight could mistake me for you."

Bujold's women characters are great, but they're starting to develop a touch of Heinlein Syndrome: they're strong, and beautiful, and brilliant, and highly competent... and they really want to sleep with the hero.

I will be curious how you react to the next few books as Miles's romantic arc develops (you can probably guess that a collection called "Miles In Love" will touch on this issue!). For me, Lois usually makes it believable, by selling me on the idea of how Miles can make people feel. And of course, Elena didn't want to sleep with him. But, well, there is more to come.

Also I really hope rape and torture do not begin to figure prominently in the stories.

No, they don't. I don't think there's anything else like the Ryoval sequence. If anything I would say the series evolves away from that kind of stuff.

it seems that almost no thread is dropped, nothing is placed at random.

This is all the more amazing to me when I remember how she wrote things out of order (starting with Shards of Honor, The Warrior's Apprentice, Ethan of Athos and Brothers In Arms and then going back and "filling in" the Vor Game and then Barrayar, then writing Mirror Dance, then going back and filling in Cetaganda). You are about to reach the point where everything was written in order, and internal and external chronology match, starting with Memory. I'm not sure whether she truly plans everything ahead of time, or is just really good at making things fit. I suspect she tells herself things like "I always imagined in here Miles was likely to do XXX," and that's just enough for her to go fill in the gaps later.

Oh, and I have to mention my favorite line in the book: "You're the first Vorkosigan to make a profit on a business venture in five generations. Welcome to the family." ♥
owlmoose
Mar. 21st, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
The bits with the Black Gang are difficult to read, perhaps a bit paradoxically, for me, because it puts more of a distance on the horrors that Mark is facing, and therefore it's harder to look away. But I agree with you that it actually makes Mark *more* interesting and likable instead of less.

And of course, Elena didn't want to sleep with him.

Mmm, I don't know about that. She turned him down, yes, but it was because she didn't want to be overwhelmed by him. I believe she even used the word "love" in her rejection. I do agree that her refusal of him was a partial subversion of the trope, though.

This is all the more amazing to me when I remember how she wrote things out of order

I can hardly believe that this is true, although I recognize that it is. With the exception of "Falling Free", because I started with the Cordelia omnibus I've been reading the stories in strict chronological order as far as I can tell, and it all hangs together without a hitch. About the only thing that might seem off is Miles's internal reactions to the Cetagandans -- after the events of "Cetaganda", he ought to have more nuanced feelings about them than "RARGH ENEMY".
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